Did you know that books were among the very first commercial Christmas presents? That’s right—printed books were integral in helping to invent the modern, consumer-oriented Christmas holiday. Before then it was customary to give food or, if you were wealthy, a monetary “tip” to those who were less well off financially. (The latter might come to a rich person’s door and demand the “tip,” in fact.) The gift of a printed book changed all that, helping to defuse the class antagonism that typically rose to the surface around the winter holidays.
You can read more about the details of this fascinating history in my post from a few years ago on “How the Books Saved Christmas.” And if you’re interested in a broader history of the role books played in the invention of contemporary consumer culture, then you should check out The Late Age of Print. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it makes a great gift.